Making school environment a safe place for learners in Soroti District in Uganda
In Uganda’s North Eastern district of Soroti, the Ministry of Education and Sports is spearheading a campaign to support efforts aimed at decisively addressing Violence Against Children in school (Vacis) cases with support from UNESCO. The campaign involves rallying the education sector at district level together with the district and school leadership to respond to violence cases. In 2022, the MOES oriented district leadership, school management and senior men and women teachers on prevention of school related violence against children. This intervention is aimed at enabling the children to acquire knowledge and skills to enable them strive positively and realize their full education potential in an environment free of violence through strengthening school clubs and mentoring district education teams to conduct outreaches to schools. The school outreach activities were held from 3-4 April 2023.
According to Uganda’s annual national crime report 2022, over 5.8% of the reported cases were as a result of child-related offences with 13,489 cases where children were direct targets and victims of crime. Reported cases of Child abuse and torture according to the report has risen from 1073 in 2021 to 1240 in 2022. Soroti ranks highly as one of the districts in the region with highest cases of child abuse and torture, with over 20 reported cases. The Uganda National Violence Against Children Survey 2018, meanwhile highlighted that incidence of bullying is both physical and emotional with almost 1 in 3 females and males experiencing emotional violence in their childhood. Against this backdrop, the Ministry of Education and Sports with support from UNESCO implemented school level activities in the district of Soroti to respond to the issue of violence against children in schools.
The school outreach activities were held in four schools namely; Odudui primary school, Kamuda primary school, Gweri secondary school, and Katine Secondary School. The schools were selected based on the high numbers of learner population and increasing rate of child protection issues in the institutions. Collectively, a total of 824 learners and 43 teachers were engaged on selected topics on violence and creating a safe learning environment, including a reflection on life at school, rights and responsibilities, reporting tracking referral and response to Vacis, and formation of school clubs. Among the most common cases of violence reported by learners were; caning and hard labor as forms of punishment administered by teachers and prefects as well as bullying by fellow learners.
Akello Esther (not real names) is a 14-year-old pupil at Odudoi primary schools. Like many of the counterparts in her class, she is a victim of bullying through name-calling often orchestrated by fellow learners. Ajio confessed that nickname calling is just one of the few things she dislikes about her school.
“I do not like nicknames because when I am called by it, it makes me want to engage in a fight.” Ajio admitted. She however acknowledged that, besides the negativities that surround her, she appreciates the efforts of her teachers.“What I like about my school is that, the teachers are approachable and always open to addressing our challenges here at school.”
In Kamuda Primary school, the learners outlined that due to the absence of a structured school feeding program, the pupils are unable to effectively participate in other school activities including active teaching and learning. Relatedly, the institutions committed to, among other things, strengthen menstrual health by providing emergency pads, sensitize learners on violence against children and a safe, create an hygienic learning environment, install a suggestion box and engage the parents and community on school safety and feeding.